COVID-19 and Carbondale: Local businesses feel the effects

By Chloe Schobert, Graphic Designer

The COVID-19 pandemic has put the United States in unprecedented territory. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered all public and private schools, bars, and restaurants that have dine-in options to close temporarily until March 30. 

These measures were put into place as 105 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Illinois as of March 16, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

As the number of cases and the restrictions increase, the city of Carbondale and local businesses are left in unfamiliar territory as Southern Illinois University extends Spring Break for a week and transitions to online classes.  

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“I think not having students on-campus is definitely going to put a little bit of a pinch on an already difficult business climate here in Carbondale,” Jason Buehner, owner of Printing Plant LLC, said.

Chloe Schobert | @chloscho_art2020
The Strip on S. Illinois Ave stands empty on Tuesday, March 17.

The Printing Plant LLC is a full service print shop as well as a FedEx authorized shipping center. The business prints everything from banners to letterheads.

“Our business is dependent on other local businesses, not necessarily as much on students. But if there are no students, then those businesses slow down and then our business eventually slows down,” Buehner said.

With class doors temporarily closing, local businesses who depend on students are left in uncertainty. 

“Most of our customers are students, and since Spring Break is extended, in the last week like normally our business will slow down in the Spring Break, Summer Break, and Winter Break,” Ming Wei, owner of Blend Tea and Crepe Lounge, said. “I think that the local people don’t go out to eat so often right now.”

Blend closed on March 17 in compliance with the governor’s order.

“Right now I think it is good for everyone to order to-go or pick-up or delivery so you can stay home and eat by yourself and reduce the risk,” Wei said.

The businesses that remain open are left with a reduction in the population as students stay at home, leaving some businesses trying new strategies to earn a profit.

“We are just trying to figure out the best way to be available for the businesses that need stuff and the city if they need stuff, whether it’s a banner for ‘hey we’re open again’ or a banner saying ‘hey we’re closed’ or ‘here’s a quarantine area’ or who knows what,” Buehner said.

Local businesses might feel a domino effect as restaurants and bars shut down on top of the lack of students in the city.

“A lot of what we do is based off of businesses in town. If all of your pizza places close, and we make pizza menus, then we are not going to be making pizza menus because they don’t need them because they’re not open,” Buehner said.

While some local businesses are seeing a reduction in their sales, others are benefiting from selling products that are in high demand. 

 “The last two weeks are the highest back-to-back sales weeks that we have had in the history of the Co-Op,” Francis Murphy, general manager of Neighborhood Co-Op Grocery Store, said.

The last time Murphy recalled seeing consumers behave like they are now was during the Y2K scare and severe weather.

“You could anticipate things like this if there is a severe weather event approaching, like a blizzard. People would respond in a similar way, but this is like a nation-wide blizzard basically. Everyone at once, in the whole country, is like wanting food, toilet paper, Purell, and so it really is unlike anything else in the respect that has happened,” Murphy said.

With the suddenness of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, many stores are left with aisles of empty shelves.

“There has been a little concern that our distributor would get too backed up because they’re getting tremendous sales from all over, but the only thing we really ran out of was hand sanitizer. We were out of toilet paper, but those are really the only two things. We have plenty of food,” Murphy said. 

 Although local businesses are feeling the effects differently, they are all taking precautions to combat COVID-19.

“We wipe down throughout the shop, counter, door handles, throughout the whole shop. We have cleaned it from top to bottom. We’ll continue to clean it from top to bottom,” Buehner said.

Neighborhood Co-Op is also taking other steps, such as removing testers from their health and beauty section. 

“We already had a really robust cleaning program going on; even before this happened we were probably the cleanest store in town. We are just taking special attention to ensure that all of the surfaces are wiped down frequently. And we have taken other measures, like we are not doing any sampling,” Murphy said.

With all the uncertainty about the upcoming weeks, the small businesses of Carbondale remind shoppers to shop locally.

“The small businesses, especially throughout southern Illinois, are definitely going to feel an impact,” Buehner said. “I think it is most important for all of us to understand that by shopping at those small businesses you are making a huge impact.”

Designer Chloe Schobert can be reached at [email protected]

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